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The garlic experiment

This season, with the hedge between the properties on the south side and the sad sack larch next door both gone, it’s opened up enough sun for tomatoes, and that experiment was a great success. I figure if there is enough sun for tomatoes there is going to be enough sun for garlic too. With that in mind, today I expanded the new flower garden up front by the book box, giving me enough room to plant plenty enough garlic to keep us happy next year.

Last week, Tuffy P came home with some garlic for planting. I don’t know what variety it is. However, it even came with handy-dandy fool-proof instructions. Screen Shot 2017-09-29 at 1.49.31 PM.jpg

How could I go wrong? I didn’t think I was going to be able to do this today because it was drizzling a bit earlier this morning, but that really didn’t amount to enough rain to wet the ground. Now it’s turned into a lovely sunny afternoon. Perfect.


  1. Salvelinas Fontinalis

    Garlic is a wonderful garden crop and it is pretty easy to be successful with it if you are able to ignore bad advice and listen to folks who have been growing garlic for 40 years. Here are some hints…
    1) Do not plant garlic in Toronto now. Just dont.. Spring planted garlic is a guaranteed fail so garlic indeed must be planted in the fall but not yet. When you plant garlic in the fall it will start taking up moisture right away and it will start growing roots within about a week. About 3 weeks later it will initiate green top growth. All that is normal but it isnt what you want to happen. The problem is that if you plant too early that green top growth may break through the soil surface, start photosynthesis and start growing furiously and then when it gets really cold in February there is a high probability that the top growth will freeze and the plant will simply die. What you want to happen is for the roots to start growing just before it gets really cold so that the top growth will not grow enough to break through the soil and ideally you would like the ground to freeze with no green growth visible. If you can achieve that with enough time to have root growth started then garlic can survive an arctic winter. I live about 50 miles north of Toronto and I traditionally plant in the first week of November, so for Toronto the second or 3rd week of November should be about right.

    2) To get spectacular garlic you should treat it as having 3 growing seasons. The first is that month or so right after you plant it when it is making roots. To get max root growth I dig in some fertilizer that is high in the last 2 numbers eg 0-10-10 or 0-20-20. You should not apply fertilizer that has a high first number which is nitrogen. Nitrogen will stimulate green top growth which is exactly what you dont want. The second growth season happens in early spring with the keyword being early. Think along the lines of as soon as the snow is gone in early March as the start of this phase. What you want at this stage is as much green top growth as you can push out of your plants. The more top growth you get the bigger will be your photosynthesis factory which will be used later for making nice big bulbs. Fertilize with a high nitrogen fertilizer as soon as the snow is gone to give the plants a kick start. Garlic will continue to make green top growth until roughly the longest day of the year ie 21 June. Simply put, the bigger and healthier your plant is by June 21 the bigger and tastier your harvested bulbs will be. I will sometimes give garlic a second feeding of nitrogen in early May. Once the days begin to get shorter ie June 22 the garlic will wind down the top growth process and use those nice big plants to photosynthesize food for making the bulbs. At the stage the only thing you can do to help is to control the weeds and dont let the ground dry out.

    3) Around the end of Julyish depending on the variety the garlic plant will stop enlarging its bulb and that nice green top will start to die. This is normal. The plants start to die from the ground up. The lowest leaf will turn yellow and start to shrivel, then a few days later the next leaf up will turn yellow and so on all the way up until the plant is dead. You dont want to wait until the whole plant has turned yellow to harvest your crop. The magic number is 3. When the third leaf from the bottom has turned pretty much completely yellow the underground bulb will be as big as it is going to get and the garlic bulb will be nice and tight and hard. Perfect. If you wait longer what happens is the individual cloves will start to push away from the main stalk and the bulb will become loose. It might become so loose that the cloves fall off when you try to dig them out and half your crop will vanish into the loose soil never to be seen again. Also the bulb wont make that nice white papery wrap that helps it to keep for a long time.

    4) Once the bulbs are harvested (top and all) you will need to sort of cure them. Maybe cure isnt the right word but dry isnt quite right either. What you want to do is spread the crop out on a table, perhaps on a porch where it wont get rained on and no more than 2 layers deep and forget about them for a week or two. What will happen is clinging soil will dry out, the outer papery layer on the bulb will dry out, and the top growth will dry out. You dont want the green top growth rotting in a wet pile and you dont want to pile your bulbs wet into a basket and other than that there is nothing magic happening. When I think they are ready to come indoors I trim off the top growth with pruners leaving a couple of inches of stub and I rub off any clinging dirt with my hands. Put the bulbs into a wooden or cardboard basket so air can get at the bulbs. Dont even think about stuffing them into a plastic bag.

    5) At this stage you get to play genesticist. Take a guess at how many garlic plants you will want to plant in the upcoming fall. Select the biggest and best bulbs and set enough of those beauties aside to provide enough garlic to plant. You always replant the biggest and best. After just a few years you will find that your whole crop will pretty much all be biggest and best

    6) The variety of garlic that you grow matters. For starters dont even consider planting that chinese garlic you get in a grocery store. Just dont. The most common variety grown in Ontario is called Music named after Al Music the dude who commercialized it. It is popular because it works. It makes decent sized (but usually not huge) bulbs, the cloves are big and easy to peel, it is very hardy and tastes good. Just what you want but if you are a bit adventuresome you can do better. I developed my own spectacular strain from a few bulbs I bought from a Ukranian guy at the Bolton farmers market. He had smuggled a few bulbs in from the old country when he moved here and he planted and multiplied them until he had enough for a commercial crop. If you see some spectacular garlic for sale dont be afraid to buy a few bulbs and plant them at the right time because you definitely can develop your own strain over time. I very strongly recommend that you avoid any of the red varieties. Ok red doesnt mean fire engine red but there are some varieties that show significant burgundy stripes or burgundy patches on the outside layer of paper. It has been my experience that these varieties dont keep well at all and you are hard pressed to salvage enough that hasnt rotted to let you replant in November. Most of the reds taste pretty good though. And dont buy tiny stunted looking bulbs for planting. The size of the bulb you use for planting directly affects the size of the bulbs you will harvest so just say no to small bulbs.

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